Did you ever find yourself a part of something that you never intended?
This happened to me this week, so I've been considering this concept of unintended consequences. Sometimes we hear this phrase as something associated with politics. How one pundit explains the consequences of passing legislature that has good qualities, but there are consequences which others may suffer as a result. We've heard it discussed in terms of war, how within a battle to take a strategic area, there are civilian casualties–these are the unintended consequences of a mission one side deems necessary to the objective. Well, my situation isn't so catastrophic as any of these things, but was certainly enough to give me pause.
It seems throughout our days we do and say so many things without much thought to unintended consequences. In my case, I simply answered a question. My answer was later used out of context for something totally different from anything pertaining to the original question. Imagine my surprise when it came back to me! I suppose it was a simple mistake, but isn't that how misunderstandings happen? So many things have unintended consequences, but they aren't all necessarily bad consequences, some may even be neither good nor bad, they just are there.
Consider, if you will, the unintended consequences of the ministry of Jesus. Scholars are pretty much in agreement that Jesus did not intend, when he walked the earth teaching and healing, to start a new religion. But just look at those unintended consequences! Christianity spans the globe and prompts people to live transformed lives. It also spans the globe and leads people to do pretty horrific things in the name of faith. Both are consequences of his ministry. Some good comes about because of these consequences and some bad. When we live our faith, we all hope for the consequences to be for the good.
2012 promises to be a year of mission for First Christian Church. In April we have a group going to Alabama to help rebuild following destructive tornados. Mass destruction was the consequence of weather patterns beyond our control. Now, this makes room for our lives to be transformed by living out our faith and reaching out to help others. The intended consequence is that families will once again be able to return to living out their lives in safe homes. The unintended consequence may likely be that those going find themselves transformed by the experience, as well as the homes they repair.
In June our middle school youth will travel to Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas. The intended consequence will be that these youth gain an understanding of the tremendous need in the world and Heifer International's mission to meet these needs. The unintended consequence may be that our youth are somehow empowered to see the world as a global village where people we never encounter face-to-face become our neighbor. Who knows, they may learn to look at how they live and act in the world as actually having impact on someone, somewhere they never knew existed. It may cause them to act differently in the world.
In July our high school youth will travel to Arecibo, Puerto Rico. The intended consequence is for these youth to encounter places in the world where people are not as fortunate as themselves and empower them to do work to make a difference for the good in the lives they encounter. The unintended consequence may be that these youths build friendships across geography and culture that span a lifetime, or that they become more aware of their own good fortune and become thankful for all they own. Perhaps they will be inspired to work for change in the world they soon will inherit from our generations.
Truth is, it is my hope that all these things are accomplished by our efforts at mission in the world this year, which might make all these things intended consequences. But having faith in a God who is truly involved in the world and forever calling us out into the world makes me hopeful that the unintended consequences of all we involve ourselves in this year will be far greater than anything you or I can imagine or hope to experience. Our God is a God of loving abundance who wants for us so much more than we can fathom. When we place our lives within God's care we trust that the unintended consequences will be more than greatest imaginings.
In the weeks and months ahead, you will be called on to contribute to these mission efforts, perhaps even to participate. I wonder what will be the unintended consequences of you actions. It is my guess that you, too, will be richly blessed.